Prior to his visit Wednesday, President Barack Obama last came to N.C. State University on Sept. 14, 2011. There in Reynolds Coliseum, he urged people to prod Republicans in Congress to pass his proposed $447 billion American Jobs Act.
Every single one of you can help make this bill a reality by telling Congress to pass this bill, pass this jobs bill, he said.
Congressional Republicans didnt go along, of course. Instead, they opted for a sequester, a government shutdown and endless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The result was no significant national investment in jobs creation and a recovery that has limped along, causing long and perhaps permanent financial damage to the unemployed and underemployed.
The president returned to N.C. State this week with the same message: The government needs to take action to create jobs. But this time he wasnt asking for help from Congress. He has learned thats not coming from Republicans who are more intent on denying an extension of unemployment benefits than finding a way to put Americans back to work.
This time, the president is doing what he can on his own.
This has to be a year of action, Obama told a crowd of hundreds at the tennis center on the Raleigh campus. Where I can act, on my own without Congress, Im going to do so. And today Im here to act.
Obama announced a public-private initiative that will create the Next Generation Power Electronics Institute to develop energy-efficient electronic chips and devices. The institute will be headquartered on NCSUs Centennial Campus and funded over the next five years by $70 million in federal money and $70 million from the state, universities and businesses.
Providing $70 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to create high-tech jobs is a long way from $447 billion in infrastructure spending and other efforts to give people work, but its a strong boost to NCSU and the Research Triangle. Its also an example of how smart investment by government can create a hub that generates private investment and ultimately pays for itself many times over.
Lets hope it was an example noted by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker and other state leaders who attended the speech. So far, their ideas for stimulating job growth have been limited mostly to tax cuts and reorganizing the Commerce Department by turning over some functions to a nonprofit entity that will work with fewer restrictions and less transparency.
The cost of Republican obstruction of the American Jobs Act is still being felt. But slowly the economy is recovering, and Republicans are coming to realize that blind opposition to Obama hurts the nation and their party. For the first time since 2011, Congress has settled on a budget and appears ready to approve a $1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill instead of forcing the nation to get by on temporary spending extensions marked by caps and lagging behind inflation.
Federal spending is still pinched despite deepening needs in the United States, but the bill will restore some funding that could benefit the Research Triangle and its universities. There will be $1 billion more for the National Institutes of Health and hundreds of millions more for other health agencies.
The government cant sustain the economy, but it can certainly spur the economy. In Raleigh on Wednesday, the president showed how.